North Side Democrat accuses downstate Republican of making remarks intended to ‘dehumanize’ LGBTQ community

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State Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, left, earlier this month; State Sen. Mike Simmons, D-Chicago, right, in February.
State Sen. Darren Bailey, R-Xenia, left, earlier this month; State Sen. Mike Simmons, D-Chicago, right, in February. | Facebook; Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

Responding to questions about his remarks during debate over a sex education bill, Republican state Sen. Darren Bailey said that Democrats such as state Sen. Mike Simmons “like to call you names and spread lies.”

SPRINGFIELD — Declaring “it’s time for that type of stuff to end,” North Side state Sen. Mike Simmons on Friday rejected Republican Darren Bailey’s explanation of his use of the word “perversion” during debate on a sex education bill, accusing the downstate lawmaker of sounding “a dog whistle” intended to dehumanize the LGBTQ community.

“I felt like it also was intended to shame young people – shaming their bodies,” Simmons said. “The reason I rose to have that stricken from the record is I don’t want anybody reading that and internalizing even more, you know, this kind of self-shame.

“It’s time for that type of stuff to end,” the freshman Democrat told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Bailey, a state senator and GOP gubernatorial candidate from southern Illinois, made his remarks Thursday during debate on a bill designed to standardize sex education in schools across the state, including teaching students how to define consent, gender identity, and different types of families, including cohabitating and same-sex couples.

The bill passed after heated debate in which Bailey said the standards “pushed perversion in our schools.”

On Thursday, Bailey denied that he was referring to same-sex relationships as “perversion.”

Simmons, who is gay, countered that it’s “difficult to take in good faith” that Bailey’s words weren’t targeted at the LGBTQ community.

“I took it as a dog whistle intended to dehumanize a whole spectrum of diverse families … that includes LGBTQ people,” Simmons said.

The explosive comments echoed across the state on Friday, exposing the cultural fissures that divide Illinois — and the nation.

State Sen. Mike Simmons walks into his district office in the Edgewater neighborhood in February.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file
State Sen. Mike Simmons walks into his district office in the Edgewater neighborhood in February.

And Bailey, a farmer from Xenia, did nothing to quiet the tremors.

The Xenia Republican expanded on his criticisms in a Facebook post and live video, saying that the “filth” of this legislation shows that “morality does not seem to exist on the other side of the aisle.”

Bailey told the Sun-Times that Democrats such as Simmons “like to call you names and spread lies.”

In his Facebook post, Bailey wrote that the “hyper-partisan Majority failed again by using their power to pass an extreme piece of legislation requiring an all-or-nothing curriculum for sex education in schools.

State Sen. Darren Bailey denounces Democrats for pushing “perversion in our schools” during floor debate on Thursday.
Facebook
State Sen. Darren Bailey denounces Democrats for pushing “perversion in our schools” during floor debate on Thursday.

“The bill is obscene and fails to align with most community standards. I call on my colleagues in the legislature to strongly look at this bill, created by activist organizations that don’t care about active parental consent or strong families, and to do justice for all students in our state and vote no.”

One of the organizations Bailey is referring to is Planned Parenthood of Illinois. Bridget Leahy, the group’s public policy director, told the Sun-Times that they support the bill “so that children get the information they need.”

“Right now, for these topics of personal health and safety and sexual health education there are no standards,” she said, adding that the state board of education will develop standards that align with national ones “with the input of, you know, educators, other school personnel, community members, and parents.”

And as for same-sex couples, Leahy said students starting in kindergarten already “know and see” that their classmates may have “two mommies or two daddies … and some of [their] friends just have one mom.”

“And so, to ignore that, to pretend that’s not going on is a disservice to our students.”

But Ralph Rivera, a lobbyist for the Pro-Family Alliance and Illinois Right-to-Life, says the bill would “indoctrinate” students and that legislators should leave these discussions up to parents.

“By the sixth to eighth grade, students will have to define vaginal, oral and anal sex,” Rivera said. “The bill says you have to do things age appropriate. That doesn’t mean anything if you’re following these standards. [They] are not age appropriate.”

Rivera also took issue that the standards would require teachers and schools to “affirm” the gender identity of transgender students.

“There’s an anatomy, there’s a biology which says that a male has a penis and a female doesn’t. We’re not assigned at birth, that’s what the child is,” he said. “If a child had that problem, it would be something to work with the parents to help that child. There are many studies that say children grow out of — you can’t just go with what the child thinks.”

Leahy says that belief comes from “a place of ignorance and fear.”

“If schools do not teach inclusive instruction about gender identity or sexual orientation then it sets up a situation where bullying, stigmatization, harassment and discrimination will continue. We can not deny LGBTQ+ students information and the ability to live their authentic lives,” said Leahy.

John Jackson, a visiting professor at Southern Illinois University’s Paul Simon Public Institute, said the bill, as well as the debate around it, are part of the “culture wars in this country that are unending.”

Jackson said he expects those debates to continue and that a fair number will likely center on school curricula matters.

“I think school curricular matters are terribly important,” Jackson said.

But while the sharp exchange between Simmons and Bailey would seem to reflect the sharp differences between Chicago and some areas downstate, Jackson argued opinions vary across the state.

He said many in Bailey’s district and other conservative downstate areas would likely agree with him. But not in other areas.

“There are a lot of other places downstate where I think it would be less the case because I think a reasonable amount of downstate — and really a reasonable amount of rural America — have adopted something of a ‘live and let live’ philosophy with regard to a lot of these kinds of questions.”

Contributing: Rachel Hinton, reporting from Chicago.

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May 21, 2021 at 08:12PM

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